Robodebt fiasco reveals Centrelink workers opposed it

It has been good to see so much exposed at the Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme.

But it is also frustrating to see the way that politicians and senior public servants pointing the finger at each other over who did, or didn’t know, that the horrifically cruel and unjust scheme was legal or not.

This will probably mean that no-one is prosecuted, whereas the MPs and senior public servants responsible for the scheme should face criminal charges.

The corporate media’s coverage of the commission’s evidence has been limited. While it has covered the ins and outs of the evidence and who wrote advice about the legality of the system, it has missed analysing the politics of what led to Robodebt being initiated and continuing to cause so much misery, including death.

The former Coalition government was, and remains, ideologically opposed to paying welfare payments. It believes that those who are unemployed are lazy. It also wanted to lighten, or entirely remove, the tax burden on the super-rich and corporations.

That is why it asked the bureaucrats, responsible for Centrelink payments, to implement a scheme which penalised people who received Centrelink payments. Once it did that, senior public servants jumped in to do whatever was necessary. That is the relationship between MPs and senior public servants.

But the commission has revealed something else important. Lower level Centrelink workers were telling their bosses that the system was wrong and cruel. They tried to do whatever they could to help those who were stung. That is working-class solidarity, something the Centrelink bosses have been trying to destroy.

After the commission finishes its work, there needs to be justice for all the families of those who died by suicide, and those who are still suffering as a result of Robodebt.

People died because of the scheme and those responsible for carrying it out need to be held responsible. Alan Tudge and Christian Porter were responsible: they were 100% committed to attacking people receiving Centrelink payments. They had no interest in chasing big business tax cheats.

It does not matter whether they thought the scheme was legal, or not.

There was a mountain of evidence about the scheme’s detrimental impact. This makes them responsible for every single suicide, or suicide attempt.

The former Coalition government is ultimately responsible for this particular horror. But even though Labor, then in opposition, criticised Robodebt, in government it accepts that the Centrelink system should be punitive.

This approach lays the basis for demonising people on Centrelink payments and then introducing grotesque schemes, such as Robodebt.

[Sue Bolton is a Socialist Alliance councillor at Merri-bek Council in Melbourne.]